62d Pennsylvania Volunteers

an American Civil War Infantry Regiment

Regimental History and
Company Rosters, Corrected and Enhanced

62d  Pennsylvania Monument at Gettysburg

Desertion & Other Crimes

The 62d does not appear to have had any more or fewer deserters than other regiments. As in the other regiments there were many reasons for desertion, and it was not necessarily a sign of cowardice. In many cases the records indicate the dates and places of desertions, and in a high percentage of cases the volunteers deserted not during battles, but in the boring times between battles, especially while in winter quarters. Many deserters returned voluntarily or were transferred to another company to serve the time, with penalty, remaining in the term of service.

In the regulations, the punishment for desertion was execution, but pardons or lesser sentences were routinely given. I know of no member of the 62d who was executed for desertion, but in one celebrated case, the 62d Pennsylvania, as part of the entire Fifth Corps, witnessed the execution of five bounty-jumper deserters. Bounty-jumping started fairly early in the war after recruits were paid bounties to enlist, and scoundrels would enlist, collect their bounty, but instead of reporting for duty, desert to enlist elsewhere under a different name. Bounty-jumping became epidemic after the draft was enacted with its system of allowing draftees to avoid serving by paying a bounty to substitutes. A month after Gettysburg, the army decided to dramatically execute some bounty-hunters as a deterrent, and took advantage of five bounty-jumpers who had signed up with the 118th Pennsylvania but were caught and arrested on 13 August 1863 when after escaping en route to they tried to re-cross the Potomac. Seven days later they were court-martialed and sentenced to die before a firing squad. All had previous bounty-jumping records; and, perhaps a major factor in the decision to execute them, all were foreigners. Only one had a good command of English; two were Roman Catholic, and one was a Jew. The appeal made to President Lincoln, but he was uncharacteristically unsympathetic. After one stay of execution to allow time for a priest and a rabbi to arrive, on 29 August the three divisions of the Fifth Corps formed three sides of a hollow square, while a military band played somber music. Members of the press, including an illustrator from Harper's Weekly, were among the assembly of witnesses, as well. Graves were dug. Coffins were placed beside the holes. The manacled prisoners were positioned in a sitting position on the coffins, and sixty members of the provost guard fired upon Charles Walter (aka C. Zene), a 29 year old German bookkeeper; Emil Lae (aka E. Duffie or Duffe), a 30 year old German clerk; George Kuhn (aka G Week), a 22 year old Prussian Jewish barber; John Rainese (aka Gion or George Rionese), a 23 year old Italian; and John Folaney (aka Faline or Geacinto Lerchize), a 24 year old Italian. After the weapons were inspected to see that each man had fired his weapon, and the bodies inspected, the condemned were declared dead. The band changed its tone of music, starting with "The Girl I Left Behind Me," as company by company, the regiments of the Fifth Corps paraded in columns passed the bodies and back to their camps.

Punishment for minor crimes and petty offenses were administered under the authority of the regiment's commander to avoid the time and effort of a trial or court martial. There is some evidence that discipline in the 62d was strictly administered, but that "the Boys having nothing to do [would get] up to all sorts of Devilment." When the troops were in winter quarters, there was plenty of nothing to do, and there was a guard house. While in winter quarters or on campaigns, however, embarrassment seems to have been employed as chief means of punishment. In addition to an order, mentioned above under "Sobriety," calling for the tying up of soldiers for getting drunk, other punishments cited by Shenkel included soldiers being drummed out of camp or drummed around camp wearing a barrel, having their heads shaved, or "wearing an old pair of pants and overcoat after cutting the buttons off."

There were a few more serious nefarious affairs involving either officer or privates, and much stronger punishments.

Captain Thomas Kerr was dismissed on 5 April 1863 for overcharging the Adjutant General's office in Harrisburg for reimbursement for rental payment for a room used as a recruiting office in Rimersburg. In his defense, Kerr indicated he had negotiated a smaller amount than he realized he was authorized to pay, but although he submitted a report asking for the higher figure, it was only because he had to report to duty with his company that he was unable to straighten out the matter.

Private Peter Abbott was court-martialed for being absent without leave from 16 June to 16 July 1864. Before his General Court Martial, he testified that he had been given a pass to visit his father, Private Squire Abbott of the 155th Pennsylvania Volunteers, at Corps Hospital, but had missed a boat and was then unable me to get the necessary pass to join his company at Washington. He was found guilty on 2 August 1864 and sentenced to forfeit all pay and allowance from then on and to make good the time lost by serving time in the 91st PA. He apparently caught malaria during the campaign at Petersburg. As part of the sentence, when he finally mustered out, he was dishonorably discharged. The dishonorable discharge, however, seems to have been overturned, since his wife successfully applied for a widow's pension.

The Peter Gilner Incident

By far the most interesting case of crime or misdemeanor involved Private Peter Gilner from Company F. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to be executed, but through accident and bureaucratic ineptitude, plus some congressional pressure, his life was spared. Through the valiant research efforts of Gary Kersey, details of the general court martial and pardon by Abraham Lincoln have come to light. The incident that got him in trouble occurred in September 1863 near Cedar Creek, near Culpeper, Va. This was the post-Gettysburg period when both Lee's and Meade's armies were resting and reorganizing. Except for some minor skirmishes, it was a time of idleness and a great opportunity for idle men to get into trouble. On the night in question, there was an altercation between eight drunken soldiers and two black women. Although eight men were involved, it was Gilner alone who got into trouble. A captain saw the event and rode up to investigate the trouble, and Gilner told him to mind his own business, or he would kill him. Obviously drunk, Gilner then picked up some rocks and threw one which narrowly missed. The captain went and got help. When he returned, only Gilner remained on the scene. Once again he threatened the officer and threw a stone, but this time he hit the captain.

Gilner was tried and found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad. He was accused of going "beyond lines past a Mrs. Brown’s house, then bloodied the mouth and nose of a black lady." The worse charge was striking the officer. That carried the death penalty. Awaiting execution, Gilner was confined with prisoners who had been found guilty of desertion. Several months later, upon General Meade's recommendation, the deserters' death sentences were commuted to confinement in the prison at Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys. At the same time, some 60 disorderly men from the 2d Maine (made famous by the story of Joshua L. Chamberlain's speech to them when they threatened mutiny instead of joining the 20th Maine just prior to the fighting on the second day at Gettysburg). Mistakenly, Gilner was shipped to Florida with these deserters and other miscreants. When it came time for his execution, Gilner could not be found. After the Meade learned that Gilner was no longer in the army, but in prison, steps were taken for him to be returned and executed. Before that happened, a member of Congress from Pittsburgh, James K. Moorhead, got involved and successfully pleaded first for a stay of execution and then for a pardon. Gilner's mother may have had an audience with Lincoln as well. Lincoln signed the pardon, and on 19 October 1864 the unexecuted portion of Private Peter Gilner's sentence was remitted and he was released from imprisonment. At some point Gilner then was transferred to the 155th P. V., and he was honorably discharged. Unfortunately, however, Gilner was denied a pension and unable to have the dishonorable discharge based on his conviction and original sentence of execution.

A New York Times article reported on 15 September 1878 that at a Company F reunion at Wildwood Grove, Castleshannon, a comrade, identified only as Patrick P., [Note, however, that there were no volunteers in the 62d whose first name was Patrick and last name began with the letter P.] after "partaking pretty freely of the refreshments," arose and confessed to having committed the crime for which Gilner had suffered. It was further reported that a committee of former officers would be formed to lay the facts before the War Department. It remains undetermined if the drunken confession had any merit or whether or not the committee actually met or made a report. Gilner tried for over 40 years to get a pension, but was always denied. As late as 1910 he filed for an invalid pension, while he was living in Ohio.

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This page authored and maintained by John R. Henderson (jhenderson @ icyousee . org), Lodi, NY.
Last modified: 24 January 2013, 150 years after the 62d Pennsylvania took part in Burnside's ill-fated "Mud March."
The Sixty Second Pennsylvania Monument, pictured at the top of the page, was dedicated at Gettysburg on 11 September 1889. The image was printed in the book, Pennsylvania at Gettysburg, Ceremonies at the Dedication of the Monuments, published in 1904.
URL: http://www.icyousee.org/pa62d/desertion.html